John Hunwicke looks forward to the liturgical wars of the coming decade

In perhaps a year or two’s time, the following scene could become a reality in hundreds of American (and even perhaps a few British) Roman Catholic churches:

The priest reaches the altar and waits while the opening song is sung, perhaps by a jeans-clad nun accompanying herself on a guitar, squatting on the Sanctuary steps. Then he says ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. A fairly ragged response rumbles round the church, quite a lot of people don’t say the Amen; indeed, Sister keeps her mouth firmly shut. The words Father and Son, in all their assertive patriarchality, offend her and her partner’s sensibilities. And she has many followers in the congregation. But now, for the celebrant, comes the really tricky bit. He swallows nervously. The knuckles of the hands that grip the ambo are white. Looking down – avoiding everybody’s eyes – he says ‘The Lord be with you’. But this time the response is not ragged. In fact, there are two responses, each roared loudly by competing segments of the congregation. Sister and her admirers all shout ‘And also with you’. Other worshippers – perhaps characterized by slightly more formal clothes and manners – roar with no less enthusiasm and commitment ‘And with your spirit’.

Pros and Cons

We are looking into the future at the first Sunday morning after a new, Vatican-inspired, translation of the Order of Mass, now in the early stages of creation, officially comes on stream. And the first sign of change that Sunday morning will be that ‘And also with you’ is out; ‘And with your spirit’ is in. But the imposition by Rome of this new translation will have caused acrimonious dissension. ‘And with you’ will now be a badge; if you say it you will be making the point that you are of what you call ‘the Spirit of Vatican II’, and you regard the ‘And also with you’ Mass, authorized in 1973, as the symbol of the new spirit of change that swept through the Western Church in the aftermath of the Council. It will be your view that a repressive Vatican has done away with the gains of 1973; and replaced it with a new translation symbolizing the Spirit of John Paul II. So ‘And also with you’ will have become the emblem of all that you, as a good liberal, hold most sacred: Wimminpriests … abortion … lesbigay ‘rights’ … On the other hand, ‘And with your spirit’ will be a sign of the view that, in the aftermath of the Council, not every thing was done as perfectly (or as much in accord with what the Council actually said) as it might have been, and that the Pope may be right to insist on a translation more faithful to the age-old traditions of the Church.


Why doesn’t Rome like ‘And also with you’? Firstly, because it’s not a very close translation of Et cum spirito tuo, which is based on 2 Timothy 4.22 (identical or similar phrases are used in Greek and other eastern languages in the Orthodox Liturgy and other ancient Christian liturgies even further eastwards). But does closeness of translation matter? Surely, ‘And also with you’ gives the gist of the Latin? After all, what on earth does ‘And with your spirit’ mean? The answer is that it refers to the particular gift of the Spirit possessed by the priestly celebrant; as we Anglicans might say, to the ‘Holy Spirit for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God’. One Byzantine liturgical scholar has paraphrased it as ‘He is also with your God-filled Spirit’, quoting the great Eastern father St John Chrysostom: ‘When he stands at the holy altar, when he is about to offer the awesome sacrifice – you have answered ‘And with your spirit’ reminding yourselves by this reply that he … does nothing by his own power … but by the grace of the Spirit …’; and Theodore of Mopsuestia who makes clear that ‘Spirit’ does not mean the priest’s soul but ‘the grace of the Holy Spirit by which those confided to his care believe he has access to the priesthood’. So a recent Roman document, after citing ‘all major liturgical tradition – whether Semitic – Greek, or Latin’, observes that ‘And also with you’ ‘inappropriately situates the exchange on a purely horizontal level, without an apparent distinction in the roles of those who speak, the literal translation in its historical context has always been understood in relation to the crucial distinction in liturgical roles between the priest and the people.’

But does everybody understand the true meaning of ‘And with your spirit’? Well, of course not. But Rome takes the view that clergy are supposed to be capable of explaining relatively elementary points to their people; and is prepared to impose texts ‘that will have to be clarified by good exegesis’. And, in any case, Rome is no longer prepared to go along with Sister and her cohorts of ‘modernizing’ liberals who prefer mistranslated ancient texts because they dislike such doctrines as Ministerial Priesthood and the Fatherhood of God.

Liturgical battles

So what has been happening in the Roman Communion? A vigorously fought theological and cultural punch-up, particularly (although not only) in America. In the pink corner, ICEL – the International Consultation for English in the Liturgy. They produced in 1973 an English translation of the Mass which even they soon admitted was weak and needed to be redone. So they put together a new draft, the English style of which was less unfortunate but which had an even greater determination than 1973 to smuggle up-to-date things like ‘inclusive language’ into texts under the guise of ‘translation’. In the purple corner, the dapper but determined figure of Cardinal Medina Esteve, head of CDW (the Congregation for Divine Worship). He put the second ICEL draft on hold, tried to persuade ICEL to provide translations that were translations rather than liberal manifestoes; then tried to persuade the Committee of Bishops which supervises ICEL to reform that institution, not least by sacking the more hard-line intransigents who had dug themselves in and refused either to change or to go.

Pell Mell

Since this Committee of Bishops seemed to be doing very little, and to be doing it at a snail’s pace, last March Medina finally declared that the new ICEL drafts could not be authorized and that since ICEL was incapable of reforming itself a new way ahead would have to be found. Within a month CDW had setup a group called Clara Vox, to assist CDW in its work relating to English language translations, and to be led by an Australian Archbishop, George Pell of Sidney, who has the confidence of Rome (in other words, the liberals call him an Arch Conservative). Pell and his collaborators instantly and unanimously committed themselves to ‘the absolute need for translations … which are precise, theologically faithful, and effectively proclaimable’. What they come up with, of course, will have a considerable knock-on effect upon us; particularly if we are Catholic Anglicans. Watch this space!

John Hunwicke, formerly Head of Theology at Lancing College, has retired to the Diocese of Devon where he can be contacted at Lewdown Rectory, Devon EX20 4DN 01566 783493